Hansi Flick left in limbo as Germany fail to find new winning blueprint | Jonathan Liew

The great German teams could raise their games to suit the occasion, but this new side seem to do the polar opposite

Everything is connected. A whistle blows in Doha and within fractions of seconds, via a lattice of mobile phone networks and whispers and nudges, its sound has somehow travelled the 30 miles to Al Khor. And the cheer around the stadium gives the game away, and on the Germany bench Hansi Flick senses a change in the air, and he takes a look around, and he glances at his bench, and he knows, he just knows. He turns back to face the pitch. But his hands are in his pockets, and his thoughts are elsewhere.

Everything is connected. A World Cup group stage consists not simply of three discrete games but one cogent narrative, and if you don’t pay attention at the start you may well miss something that you need later. Here Germany loaded all their usual programmes, moved the ball with pace, did their jobs, scored four goals. But although they didn’t know it yet, none of it was any use to them. The game had already gone, and it had gone in eight wild minutes against Japan at the Khalifa International Stadium nine days earlier.

The great German sides could raise their game to suit the occasion, do whatever it took, squeeze every last drop out of their resources and system. Everyone does their job, and you win. For better and for worse, this team feel like its polar opposite. And so the problem comes when you combine the classic German mentality with a modern style of football that demands perpetual intensity, that needs every part of the machine to be 100% switched on at all times.

This game, as futile as it proved, was ample evidence of this. Germany were utterly dominant in the opening minutes and yet had just a single goal to show for it. Meanwhile Costa Rica went up the other end and scored twice in 12 chaotic minutes as the gloomy news filtered through from Doha and Germany allowed their minds to drift. Flick had withdrawn Ilkay Gündogan and Leon Goretzka in an attempt to engineer greater attacking thrust but in so doing had hollowed out his midfield and left Germany vulnerable to the counter. Everything is connected.

It was a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

Guardian reporting goes far beyond what happens on the pitch. Support our investigative journalism today.

Kai Havertz came on and burgled two sharp goals; Niclas Füllkrug added a fourth with a classic poacher’s finish. Germany had saved Spain but they were powerless to save themselves. There was, perhaps, a bitter symmetry in the scoreline. Germany 4-2 Costa Rica: the first game of the 2006 World Cup in Munich, the game that brought the curtain up on Germany’s summer of love, unleashed a wave of footballing fervour that would carry them to a World Cup win in 2014 and a decade of golden memories. Now, ironically, the music has stopped on the very same chord.

Hansi Flick watches on the touchline as Germany take a throw-in against Costa Rica.
Hansi Flick, pictured on the touchline during his side’s game against Costa Rica, may pay for Germany’s World Cup exit with his job. Photograph: Amin Mohammad Jamali/Getty Images

And so the postmortems can begin, the fingers can be pointed, the scapegoats sought. Flick may just pay for this debacle with his job, although the smart money is on him being given one more crack. There is, after all, talent to be mined here. Havertz, the wonderful Jamal Musiala, the teenage Dortmund striker Youssoufa Moukoko, the marvellous Leverkusen playmaker Florian Wirtz: technical players, modern players, players a good coach can build a team around.

Meanwhile others will fall by the wayside. Thomas Müller has already hinted at retirement. Manuel Neuer and Gündogan may even go too. Mario Götze has surely played his last tournament. There is a tactical blueprint, a base to build from, a home Euros in 2024 to work towards. German football has often prided itself on its composure, its refusal to press the panic button, its refusal even to acknowledge the existence of a panic button. Even after a third successive tournament failure it is possible to spin an enthusiastic yarn around this team, paint this setback as the inevitable collateral damage of a longer reinvention.

Jamal Musiala evades a Costa Rica defender.
Jamal Musiala evades a Costa Rica defender. His performances were a rare bright spot for Germany during the tournament. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Yet it is impossible to shake the feeling that something essential has been lost here, too. Everything is connected. The grounds for German optimism are also the grounds for pessimism. The technical qualities of the new generation have come at a price: a lack of defensive rigour, a chronic absence of genuine strikers, an inability to capitalise on dominance or see out the tough periods, a naivete that at times has strayed into the realm of complacency.

These are not bad players. But for too long they have lacked direction, purpose, a safety net. Germany brought just a few thousand fans out to Qatar. The indifference back home is palpable. Since Euro 2016 they have been behind in every single tournament game they have played. And by 2026 it will be 12 years since they last reached the knockout stages of the World Cup. Everything is connected. And here, the four-time world champions learned that lesson in the cruellest of fashions.


Jonathan Liew at Al Bayt Stadium

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Germany dumped out of World Cup despite wild 4-2 win against Costa Rica
Kai Havertz came off the bench to score twice but Germany’s 4-2 defeat of Costa Rica was not enough to send them through to the last 16 of the World Cup

Barney Ronay at Al Bayt Stadium

01, Dec, 2022 @9:27 PM

Article image
Germany’s Hansi Flick takes heart from hard-fought point against Spain
The Germany manager Hansi Flick said: ‘Maybe this will give us self-confidence to score,’ while Luis Enrique paid tribute to his late daughter on her birthday

Ben Fisher at Al Bayt Stadium

27, Nov, 2022 @10:59 PM

Article image
‘Very upset’: Flick calls for Germany reboot after humiliating World Cup exit
Germany’s coach said his country would have to ‘do things differently’ if they were to compete for international honours again

Barney Ronay at Al Bayt Stadium

01, Dec, 2022 @11:10 PM

Article image
Germany face questions that cut to heart of identity before Costa Rica tie | Jonathan Liew
Politicians at home are criticising the national team while Hansi Flick struggles to find a natural goalscorer in the World Cup

Jonathan Liew in Doha

01, Dec, 2022 @7:30 AM

Article image
No strikers bad, two strikers good, as Spain and Germany share the spoils | Barney Ronay
There were no goals until Álvaro Morata and Niclas Füllkrug came on, changing the scoreline if not the outcome

Barney Ronay at Al Bayt Stadium

27, Nov, 2022 @10:17 PM

Article image
Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu hails ‘historic moment’ of win over Germany
Japan’s manager Hajime Moriyasu has said his side’s remarkable comeback victory over Germany is a ‘historic moment’ for the country

Jamie Jackson at Khalifa International Stadium

23, Nov, 2022 @6:09 PM

Article image
Rip things up or keep faith? Germany hit the road and now face gamble
There are two schools of thought developing in Germany over their latest World Cup exit in the group stages

Jonathan Liew in Doha

02, Dec, 2022 @3:38 PM

Article image
Germany’s protest will reverberate down the years and generations
Even if Hansi Flick’s side go out in the World Cup group stage after the 2-1 defeat by Japan, some things just matter more

Sean Ingle at Khalifa International Stadium

23, Nov, 2022 @10:00 PM

Article image
Takuma Asano caps Japan’s second-half fightback to leave Germany stunned
Germany led 1-0 at half-time through Ilkay Gündogan’s penalty but Japan hit back in the final 15 minutes to win 2-1 with goals from Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano

Jamie Jackson at Khalifa International Stadium

23, Nov, 2022 @3:11 PM

Article image
Germany must ‘put foot on accelerator’ in crunch Spain game, admits Havertz
Kai Havertz has said Germany had ‘a fruitful exchange of views’ after their shock World Cup defeat by Japan

Jamie Jackson in Doha

25, Nov, 2022 @10:58 AM